Anecdotage

Myparents got together (not in the contemporary sense, I hasten to add) on New Year’s Eve 1940. The Blitz was in full swing in Manchester and, having met at a dance, they were later forced to take shelter from the Luftwaffe’s incendiary bombs in the old Exchange Station. They were there for hours, and I remember Mum telling me that there were no loos available and she was far too inhibited to go for a pee. Major romances start on a lot less than this.

Mum was a middle class Anglican and Dad a working class Catholic, so the relationship wasn’t particularly welcomed in either family. But the week following their meeting, the couple arranged to go to the Premier Cinema in Cheetham Hill. My mother was a Junior swimming champion who had damaged her ears diving, and so was already a little hard of hearing . Her condition was described as a ‘perforation of the inner ear’. As usual when they took their seats in the cinema, there was one of those wartime Mr Chumleigh-Warner information films on before the main movie.

It was about the dangers of clap (the 1940s version of chlamydia, minus only the penicillin) and at the end of the short, the voice-over intoned solemnly, “This girl is easy enough alright…but she might have gonorrhea”. My mother heard the last word as ‘inner ear’.

“I had that last year,” she told my startled father.

The rest of the date was somewhat frosty, and the next day Dad approached his employer – an upmarket former tennis champion who was something of a mentor – and said he was very keen on this posh girl, but she’d had, you know, the, um…etc etc.

“That’s what war does,” said his boss, “It allows otherwise well-bred girls to run riot. Whatever you do Bernard, don’t go near her”.

But Dad was in love, so he arranged another liaison with Mum, raised the issue, and the misunderstanding was sorted out.

They were married in October 1942 at St Patrick’s church in Higher Broughton. My mother didn’t convert, and so there was no music, no flowers, and not that many family. But Dad’s boss Stanley Stewart (well connected to the black market as a big-league cloth merchant) supplied the reception with real Champagne and, as not many folks in those days were used to rivers of 13% fizzy alcohol, the wedding reception turned into something of a riot. My father’s brother Frank – already building a well-earned reputation as a sexual stallion – made a play for Mum’s best friend Marjorie, whose boyfriend and later husband Les responded with the fisticuffs solution. Not for the first time, Frank was nursing a black eye the following day.

They had to delay the honeymoon as Dad was doing basic RAF training at Kirkham near Blackpool, but there were a few stolen weekends here and there, from which my brother resulted on May 11th 1944. When the baby arrived, my father asked permission of the Flight Sergeant to get a weekend pass to Manchester, which was duly turned down with the usual sensitivity shown by the armed forces to all signs of interest in anything beyond killing people. Dad ignored the ruling and went over the wall.

He saw his new son Michael for half an hour in Crumpsall hospital, and then caught the next train back to Kirkham. But as he dodged through a well-worn hole in the camp hedge, he noticed that huge lorries full of men were leaving in convoy. When he got back to the mess, Dad found his mates busily stuffing meagre possessions into kitbags.

“Eh up Bernard,” said one, “Gerra move on – it’s the invasion”.

Within two hours, Pop was boarding a ship docked in Liverpool. It struck him that, as Liverpool faces towards America and the invasion was due to take place in France, this was either the most cunning feint in military history, or not the invasion at all. In fact, their first port of call was Agadir in North Africa. Rommel had recently been ejected from the area, but his retreating forces were being harried by the RAF. As an armourer, the job of Aircraftsman First Class A B Ward 709364442 was to check the bombs and guns on each plane before take-off. He excelled at this, and as Sergeant Armourer A B Ward 709364442 was transferred to Mombasa in East Africa. From there he went to Delhi, Burma, Malaya and Singapore. There he learned of the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

During the influx of new National Service recruits that followed, Sergeant Ward spent his time as an instructor. He took over this task from an old RAF hand who, as they used to say back then, “knew the ropes”. Acutely aware of the large gaps in his technical knowledge, Dad asked the retiree for tips about how to answer difficult questions.

“When harsked hennyfink as to the function hov an object,” the old boy replied, “Simply say ‘That, aircraftsman, hizz designed for lightness and heaze hov manufacture’”. My father said that this gambit never failed.

It was November 1946 before Dad  arrived back in Manchester. His two-year old son not only didn’t know him, he hid from this stranger in the understairs cupboard for some time afterwards. I cannot help but think that such an equivocal start to the bonding process explains a lot about why my brother Mike and my father had a frequently stormy relationship during the 66 years that followed.

I arrived in February 1948. Dad went to the local priest and pointed out that, at this rate, he’d have a football team by 1959. The priest suggested he should trust in God, a recommendation that flew in the face of events to date. Instead, my father began taking the hairdresser up on his “Anything for the weekend?” offer. It was the end of a Catholicism that had been massively important to him. Even today, I admire the decision as that of a rational man who loved a heathen, and refused to be cowed by a dominant influence. There is a lesson in that for all of us today.

Dad last year

 

31 thoughts on “Anecdotage

  1. ““That’s what war does,” said his boss, “It allows otherwise well-bred girls to run riot. Whatever you do Bernard, don’t go near her”.

    But Dad was in love, so he arranged another liaison with Mum, raised the issue, and the misunderstanding was sorted out.”

    Another good read JW but just how close we came to not having a JW at all is a sobering thought.

    Also reason for me to be grateful that given my age, guessing what other people are saying as I do, wont ever have any significant effects like that incident. (Fingers crossed)

  2. John
    It’s the attitude’s of your dad and his generation that we need a lot more of
    nowadays. Let’s hope more of it comes through as this crisis worsens.

  3. I first met my Father when I was around two years old. He had been in Germany doing his national service. According to my Mother we didn’t get off to a good start, he stomped in wearing hob nailed boots which scared the hell out of me & started me screeching, stopped my Mother from picking me up, said I looked like a frog & then threw away my dummie, while announcing to those present, that I was a cissie.

    We finally made friends when I was aged about forty eight & he sixty eight.

  4. It is unlikely that Sergeant Armourer Ward ever met Sergeant Air Gunner Wood, but if he ever came across a tough Lancaster gunner who was determined to learn as much about the guns and the bombs as your Dad knew, then no doubt they had a good drink afterwards.

    As someone remarked, you don’t say if your Father is still with us. When my old man goes, I am seriously going to miss him.

    For that lot, every day of life since the War is a bonus. We could learn from that. Live till the day you die.

      • John.
        Sorry to hear about the Alzheimers, it must be very hard to cope with, for all concerned & on so many different levels. I thought he looked a bit lost when I first saw the photo.

      • Damn shame, John. As my ancestor remarks from time to time, “Auld age disnae come itsel’”.

  5. I can remember Cheetham Hill back in the 50s and I’m only one year younger than you! Next to our school – Chets – we had a bomb site. And our sports field was a long run past Strangeways. I wonder what it’s like now? I haven’t been back since I was at Salford University 40 years ago. Now not far from you in Wiltshire.

    It’s funny but our kids think it was ever thus and their parents have nothing to tell. Perhaps we were the same with our parents.

  6. Brilliant! As a nurse I’ve had the honour of listening to many an amazing story from gentlemen who still remember but were rarely listened to.

  7. Agadir was never occupied by the Africa Corps, but was a French protectorate and therefore administered by the Vichy Government until Operation Torch in November 1942. The Africa Corps surrendered on 13th May 1943.

    • Criggion
      But apart from that, I was right then.
      I know he did land at Agadir (this is July 1944 we’re talking about) but maybe he was mopping up Italians.

  8. My Dad was in he war also and went from the Russian convoys to manning a landing craft on D Day for the Yanks who were shooting at their own aircraft. He died suddenly just as Argentina invaded the Falklands and I often wish I had discussed his war experiences ore with him.

  9. @JW
    I guess, people of our age (judging from you other story, I am guessing to be about four years younger than than you) have heard many war stories from their parents.
    I am looking at your father, and he sort of reminds me mine. My father, was shot in the mouth on the last day of the war and while missing most of his teeth had sort of your father’s smile. He looked really bad when he forgot to put in his dentures.
    God be with them.

  10. Lovely story John. I was born in 42 – andf my uncle was in N Africa with the Desert Rats same time as your Pa was in East Africa. Uncle Curt ended up spying in the Western Med. Big adventures.
    And I had a flat on Broughton Heights in Salford (next door to Jimmy Saville) when I was up at Manchester in the early sixties. My GOD those were the days of change and transition. Loved every moment.
    Ah nostalgia ain’t what it used to be!

  11. JW: “. Even today, I admire the decision as that of a rational man who loved a heathen, and refused to be cowed by a dominant influence. There is a lesson in that for all of us today.”

    Even today? More like more-so today. How hard is it in these days to get people, in this so-called enlightened era, to deviate even slightly from the trodden path, the accepted way?

    To have done so in those days should grow ever more admirable in your mind as time flies by.

    • @MJTJ
      I do not think JW meant it to be entertaining. More like reflections on his memories.
      At least, this is how I suspect most of us look at our parents suffering in those days.

      • Not entertaining???

        The inner ear story was up there with the John Cleese and Joan Sanderson Fawlty Towers sketch and underpinned the poignancy of the words that followed.

        A case of reads must when the devil drives maybe?

  12. John
    I was born at end of January 1942 but didn’t meet my father ’til I was nearly 5 at the back end of 1946 as, soon after I was born, he was posted overseas. He was in the RAF and was sent first to India and then Burma and suffered rather under the Japanese. (Something he would never, ever talk about) I can remember meeting this strange man with a moustache in Khaki shorts and shirt suddenly arriving at home. Having been brought up by my mother, Great Grandmother and Great Aunt it was strange having to adjust to having another man around the house. The only other men I knew were my two Grandfathers and my uncle (my father’s brother) but only saw them rarely. Think that was why we never really got on – no early bonding. And, like your other Slogger, I was a middle-aged adult before we really bonded. Having said that he adored both my daughters and he would have been so proud of what they have achieved – sadly he died too young to see that.

  13. Thank you, sir, and bravo. To say we need more of your father’s type today is the understatement of the century. Nice to have insight into where you get it. And if I die from laughter from reading your posts my wife is coming after you.

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